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As Afghans Prepare to Vote, Women Seek Expanded Rights

Hameeda Danesh, a candidate for Parliament, camapaigns in Wardak province, central Afghanistan. Danesh. She is competing against six men to represent the deeply conservative district of Jalrez in Wardak province, where Taliban hold sway in vast tracts of the countryside. Oct. 14, 2018 photo. (AP Photo/Rahmat Gul)
As Afghans Prepare to Vote, Women Seek Expanded Rights
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Afghans will mark ballots in long-delayed elections on Saturday.

The Associated Press reports that about 16 percent of the 2,565 candidates are women. They are competing for 249 seats in Afghanistan’s parliament.

Twenty-nine-year-old Hameeda Danesh is competing against six men for a seat. She is seeking to represent the district of Jalrez in Wardak province.

Jalrez is home to many ethnic Pashtun. The Taliban is said to be in control of the area. People there follow a strict form of Islam, which bars women from a number of activities. Many women are not registered to vote.

Hameeda Danesh told the AP her story about the difficulties women face in Afghanistan.

Danesh claims that she was locked away by her uncles at the age of 13 and beaten every day for six months. The men did this because they did not want her to attend school.

Hameeda Danesh meets with children during her parliamentary campaign.
Hameeda Danesh meets with children during her parliamentary campaign.

Danesh said she hopes to guarantee education for the next generation of Afghan girls. But resistance to this idea comes from the Taliban and local militia leaders allied with the government.

Danesh said this election is extremely important for women. She noted that traditional ideas of religion in the country are gaining strength and efforts to negotiate with the Taliban are increasing. However, the last time the group ruled Afghanistan, girls were not permitted to attend school or women to work.

She showed the AP marks from her beatings as a child 16 years ago. She said, “This is why I struggle, because no woman or girl should ever have to face these tortures.”

She added, “This election is so important because we need a new generation.”

Gains for women slow to arrive

It has been 17 years since a United States-led coalition ousted the Taliban government from power. The U.S. and other nations have provided billions of dollars in aid to help rebuild Afghanistan. Yet rights activists say they struggle to get parliament to approve laws protecting women or guaranteeing education and worker rights.

Abdul Wadood Pedram heads the group Human Rights and the Eradication of Violence Organization, which is based in Kabul.

Pedram said, “A lot of members of parliament are against these laws because they don’t like some of the articles that allow women to work outside the house, or guarantee their education or their right to divorce or protection from their husbands.”

Pedram added that, after 10 years, parliament has yet to approve a law on stopping violence.

However, he noted that women have seen gains since the Taliban leadership was ousted.

Today, Afghan girls are able to attend school, and women appear on television programs and serve in parliament. They are on provincial councils, head government ministries and lead the Independent Human Rights Commission. Women also are members of the High Peace Council, which holds peace talks with rebels, Pedram noted.

Danesh’s husband Bilal said he supports his wife’s independence. However, he worries when she leaves her home in Kabul to travel to Wardak, about 40 kilometers away.

The security situation before the election remains very tense.

On Thursday, at least two Afghan officials were killed in a shooting incident during a visit of the top U.S. general in Afghanistan. The dead included Abdul Raziq, a police commander who had survived several earlier attempts on his life.

Two American soldiers were injured in the attack.

The Taliban claimed responsibility. It said the targets were Raziq and the American general, Scott Miller, who was unharmed. Miller was visiting the offices of Kandahar’s governor for a meeting with the governor and other Afghan officials.

Raziq was said to have kept Taliban rebels under control but he also was criticized by human rights activists for abuses.

Afghan officials have promised to protect Afghans who vote and voting stations across the country during the elections.

I’m Mario Ritter.

Mario Ritter adapted this story for VOA Learning English. His report is based on information from the Associated Press and VOA News. George Grow was the editor.


Words in This Story

article – n. a part of a document; a document setting the terms of an agreement

divorce – v. to officially cancel a marriage

strict – adj. severe; exacting

lock – v. to tie together; to close or make secure

uncle – n. the brother of one’s father or mother

allow – v. to permit

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